Game Designers - A Plea with Historic Overview

People have always played. In any way and with anything. Ancient findings prove that people did not only just play thousands of years ago but that board games and playing were part of the culture(s) at that time. In most cases, only the game materials of this early evidence of game and playing culture have come down to us, rarely the corresponding rules and, almost never, the inventor(s) of the game. Only a few exceptions prove the rule. In the early modern period, Thomas Murner (1475-1537), Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1607-1658) and Christoph Weickmann (1617-1681), among others, were known by name as inventors of parlor games, educational card games or board games. The card game Cribbage (early 17th century) is attributed to the English poet Sir John Suckling; other sources name Sir Richard Swiveller. But until not too long ago, the names of most designers – although games had already become commodities and cultural assets – were not known. Chess, nine men's morris, checkers, backgammon, dominoes, ladder games – and also Pachisi (known mainly as Ludo or Mensch-ärgere-Dich-nicht) are a few examples.

In the late 19th century, individual game designers as originators of games could be verified for the first time, even though they were only rarely mentioned on or inside the game box. Widely unknown is the inventor of Halma, the American surgeon George Howard Monks (1883). The best-known example is Monopoly and its forerunners: in 1904, The Landlord's Game by Elizabeth Maggie got its first patent; later, Charles Darrow promoted the modified folk game and self-published the first edition under the title Monopoly in 1933. Read more under Monopoly-History. The game Lasca by the chess world champion Emanuel Lasker belongs to the same time period. His checkers variant was already released in 1911, mentioning the prominent name because of the designer's fame!

Decades later, in the 1960s and 1970s, when the so-called Bookshelf Games became popular, in particular by 3M, other companies, such as Ravensburger and F.X. Schmid, also went along with this. This way, grand old masters like Sid Sackson and his Aquire and Alex Randolph and his Twixt became well-known among players. The package design, with a look similar to books, were grounds for the assumption that it would be a matter of course to mention the designer's name – which, unfortunately, it wasn't, at least with 3M.

In 1988, a coaster brought about the breakthrough  – at least in Germany. After the Ravensburger Spieleverlag had refused to print the designer's name on the box cover, 13 game designers, on Reinhold Wittig's initiative, signed the famous Coaster Proclamation:

"None of us gives a game to a company
if our name is not written on the box cover!"

That worked, especially since well-known designers, such as Alex Randolph, also brought their influence to bear. The Spiele-Autoren-Zunft e.V. (SAZ; Game Designer Association), founded in 1991, has always been committed to ensuring and strengthening this position that has, unfortunately, not yet been consistently put into practice.

Are game designers something special? In any case, they are neither better nor worse than any other person who adds something new to living or, better yet, living together. And thus makes life more pleasant, more entertaining, friendlier. Or preserves a tradition. And, in doing so, sustains the things worth experiencing for the next generations. Culture needs people who cultivate their accomplishments, take on responsibility with their name. Who are accessible. Or also visible. This can be compared to children sitting in a circle around the storyteller with their eyes wide open, listening to his words spellbound. Some interesting video interviews with game designers from 2006 you find here (most in German but some in English, too).

Game designers are imaginative composers, combining innovative and known game elements into a new whole. The instructions resulting from this define the players' possibilities of action. So the original idea becomes a work that is also relevant in terms of intellectual property rights. The game composition can be abstract or embedded into a themed setting. It aims at generating emotions, good entertainment and excitement, and challenging the human mind and individual skills.

Game playing cannot be completely invented anew, since most games combine many familiar elements further, time and again. What really counts is, so to speak, the "narrator's voice" and his individual style; this provides for excitement and makes the appreciative game enthusiasts move together. And get closer. Of course, there are game companies that support this excitement even more, that are also (and in particular) masters of storytelling and "gametelling." And that prize their "storytellers" in a special way.

Of course, there are also subcultures, developing in secrecy, or people who grow up in a "scene." Freaks. Maybe some games and players are part of it, and with them some game designers. Maybe these "game people" may exist only hidden, so that they cannot be corrupted. Every culture has its alternative concept, knows other options, develops further through revolution or is thrown back in its development.

What value do games have for society or for the advancement of a culture? There has probably not been enough research on this subject yet. Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens is almost well known among experts. In this book from 1938, he postulated the thesis "that culture develops in the form of playing, that culture initially is played." It is certain that playing games can train skills that can also be used beyond the domestic scope. It is also certain that playing can broaden the horizon by leading the players into new worlds; letting players experience adventures and try out things together; it is simply a suitable means against isolation. Games are a piece of freedom – even if this freedom only exists in the privacy of one's home.

We want to spotlight game designers, as creative artists for all game enthusiasts, for all younger and older playing people. Because we identify ourselves through playing. We recognize ourselves through our counterpart. That is culture, too … sustainable in its further development by creative minds, the game designers!

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